Thank you for you sincere and thought-out article. I can see you put a lot of care into it.
This notion that God answers all prayers, but just not in the way you think, is one that the church has promulgated for decades. But I think we need to start grappling with the idea this is just an empty answer that I would argue doesn’t even have biblical basis. Furthermore, it’s kind of a cop out and leads people down an unhealthy way of looking a prayer (IMHO).
If I pray that my loved one who has cancer is healed, and the loved one dies, unless I audibly hear God say “No,” “He” didn’t answer my prayer. I think we need to stop saying “God answered our prayer, he just didn’t give us the answer we wanted.”
What you’re really saying is, we don’t understand why God does or doesn’t do what She does, and as humans, we never will. I think it’s safer just to embrace the hard truth, that many prayers just go unanswered. Period. We don’t need to create some euphemism for what an unanswered prayer is. An unanswered prayer is just that, an unanswered prayer. Nothing more. Nothing less.
Instead, let’s change the whole way we even look at prayer. Like you said, God is not a “bellhop” in the sky giving us what we want. So let’s not treat God like that. He/She/They/??? is so far beyond our comprehension. Praying to God is more for us than it is for God. It provides centering and meditation. It can offer hope. But the more we look at it as any kind of ask and receive relationship, the more we will have to make excuses for things that happen in life that go against whatever we prayed for.
Just something to think about.